Monday, June 24th, 2002
For a group of people pulling down six- and seven-figure paychecks, baseball
players are a remarkably superstitious bunch. I suppose this stems from the
knowledge that they are where they are by the whims of the baseball gods
who, at any moment, may reach down and fillip them into minor league obscurity.
This consciousness of life's capriciousness manifests itself in some odd
To see these superstitions taken to an extreme, you need look no further
than the recently retired Wade Boggs. Boggs was legendary for his
habits, among which included drawing the Hebrew word "Chai" in the batter's
box before each at bat, eating a chicken dinner before every game, and running
out on the field every evening at exactly 7:07 PM. The only thing he didn't
do was tear the heads off of squirrels and suck out the bloody goodness.
(At least I don't think he did that.)
I have my compulsive, neurotic habits, too. The difference is that when I
do them people think I'm a whack job whereas when Boggs did them they talked
about his incredible consistency. Apparently, it's more endearing if you're
a .328 lifetime hitter.
Many of Boggs' rituals were done before games - taking exactly 150 groundballs
for infield practice, stepping into the batting cage at 5:17 PM every evening,
and those stops at the KFC drive thrus - therefore many fans never got to
But if you want to see Grade A obsessive-compulsive behavior, you need look
no further than the batter's box at your local stadium. The batting stance
is such a clear expression of a player's neuroses that in addition to the
play-by-play and color commentators, every network should have a psychologist
on staff. If so, you'd have sequences such as the following:
Play-by-Play Guy: "We're in the fourth, the score is tied up
at 2-2 as Hernandez steps into the batter's box."
Color Guy: "He's been swinging a hot bat ever since the hitting
coach started him hitting off of a tee. They work early before games and
it seems to be helping."
Psychologist: "Yes, and you'll notice that he has readjusted
his batting helmet three times now. This is a sign of sexual inadequacy and
that his mother did not breastfeed him. He tries to compensate by swinging
that big 36 oz. bat."
What follows is a random sampling of the idiosyncrasies of today's ballplayers:
Gary Sheffield: An obvious place to start since most people
are familiar with Sheffield's distinctive stance. The bat wiggle has now
grown into a full-blown wag. If you were watching from above the field, his
bat moves from two o'clock to eight o'clock and back. His quick wrist flicks
make him look like Jackson Pollock working on a drip painting with
the bat as the brush and the sky as his canvas.
Sheffield is not the best hitter in the league, but he may be the quickest
from the right side of the plate. The fact that he can have that much bat
movement and still catch up with a 98 mph fastball defies the laws of physics.
And no one looks more menacing standing in the box.
Craig Counsell: Someone once described his stance as a chimney
sweep who acts as if he's missed a spot. Counsell holds his bat high above
his head, circles it around and then extends his arms even further until
the bat towers above him.
Sammy Sosa: Sosa looks as if he is dodging an invisible punch
to the gut. But most of the punches are delivered from his bat.
Damon Minor: The Giants first baseman is an absolute
beast. He's a 6'7", 230 lb. left-handed batter with an open stance (much
like Luis Gonzales of the Diamondbacks) who twirls his bat
like Snideley Whiplash works his moustache. He looks less like a batter
than a cousin of Lenny from Of Mice and Men who is anxious to "pet"
the rabbit standing on the mound.
Moises Alou: How a guy who looks like a four-year-old girl
scout needing to pee can generate enough power to drive a ball out of the
park is beyond me.
Nomar Garciaparra: Many players have now taken to adjusting
their batting gloves after every pitch. Nomar is leading the vanguard of
this movement. (Just as a side note, if I hear another commentator say
"Nomaaaaaaaaah" in a bad Boston dialect as if they thought it up themselves,
I'm putting my foot through my own TV.) Nomar seems like a normal guy in
interviews, but if you watch him in the box, you slowly become convinced
that he's afflicted with Tourette's Syndrome.
(Another side note: has anyone ever considered the possibility that John
Rocker suffers from this malady? If you watch him on the mound, you'll
notice that he has more tics than a Canadian White Tail Deer in August and
he uses his glove to try to wipe invisible bugs off of his face. Add this
to his tendency to shout out racist invective at inopportune moments and
my theory begins to gather steam. Or maybe it's just because he's from Georgia.)
Jeff Bagwell: The batting stance of the Astros' veteran
is absurd. No one should be able to hit from that position. He looks as if
he's doing squats or getting ready for the limbo. In theory, he should have
zero plate coverage - his legs are spread so far apart that he barely strides
when he hits the ball. But his career batting average is .302, so apparently
it's working out okay for him.
Joe McEwing: Watching the Mets' ballplayer get into
the batter's box is a little like watching what happens when you run 10,000
volts through a stray cat. It is less a batting stance than it is a piece
of lost choreography from Martha Graham. He has a very involved sequence
of moves that are difficult to catalog, but which include a few cocks of
the head, a reach down to touch one of his feet, and finally ended by throwing
his right elbow behind him as if a bad guy was sneaking up on him.
The worst part of this bizarre ceremony is that he does it between every
pitch. If you watch enough Mets games, eventually you'll begin to pray that
the first ball hits him just to end the misery.
I don't have that baseball satellite package that all the kids are talking
about so I'm sure I'm missing a lot of other noteworthy players here. And
this doesn't even include the old guys - remember Joe Morgan pumping
that arm like a Russian immigrant trying to get water in January? - but it's
interesting to note that millionaires are as messed up as the rest of us.
What do you think Howard Hughes' batting stance would have looked
like? And more importantly, how would he have gotten his fingernails into
To read more about Boggs and some of his habits, you can do so
To read more about Canadian White Tail Deer, go